What’s Worth Streaming in December? ‘The Mandalorian,’ ‘Mrs. Maisel,’ ‘The Witcher’ and more

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Let’s face it, there’s more content on streaming services than you can possibly watch. As more services launch, this dilemma is only getting harder, and more expensive.

But you don’t need to watch — or even subscribe — to everything. What’s Worth Streaming is here to try to sort out which services are worth paying for each month, based on the content that is arriving and leaving.

The recent launches of streaming services from Apple Inc. AAPL, +1.34%  and Walt Disney Co. DIS, -0.11%  , which will be joined by AT&T Inc.’s T, +0.70%   HBO Max, Comcast Corp.’s CMCSA, +2.00%   Peacock and the short-form startup Quibi in 2020. All of those new offerings seek to compete with Netflix Inc. NFLX, +1.10%  , Amazon.com Inc.’s AMZN, +1.20%  Prime Video and Disney’s Hulu, among others.

Despite all those choices; a recent MarketWatch poll found almost 60% of respondents plan to pay for only one or two streaming services.

So what’s a budget-minded, FOMO-wary viewer to do? Well, one big advantage of cord-cutting is the ability to add and drop services each month. Waiting for all the episodes of “The Mandalorian” to be released so you can binge it during a seven-day free trial of Disney+? You can do that. Nothing grabbing you on Netflix right now? Drop it for a month or two and come back when there are better pickings.

It takes good planning and timing (remember, a billing cycle starts when you sign up, not necessarily the beginning of each month), but canceling online or from an app is much easier than trying to cancel a channel through your cable company.

One note: When considering what to subscribe to, check to see what you can get for free. For example, Apple TV+ is free for a year if you’ve bought an iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, iPod Touch or Mac since Sept. 10, and Verizon Wireless VZ, +0.35%   is giving some subscribers a free year of Disney+. If you can get it for free, do it, because the free offers won’t last forever. Just stick a Post-It on next year’s calendar to remind you when the free trial is up.

When it is time to decide what you should pay for, What’s Worth Streaming will be here to help. We will rate each streaming service every month as a “Play,” “Pause” or “Stop,” similar to investment analysts’ ratings of buy, hold and sell, and detail the content that will help you make your monthly decisions.

Here’s a look at what’s coming to the various streaming services in December, and what’s really worth the monthly subscription fee.

Netflix ($8.99 or $12.99 a month)

Streaming is a volume game, and for its sheer amount of content, Netflix is a must-have for most people. Yes, it’s roughly the price of Disney+ and Apple TV+ combined, but you also get a lot more.

Netflix is rolling out a ton of new series and movies in December, and should still be well worth the price.

The biggest must-see actually comes out Nov. 27 — Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman,” starring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. A critically acclaimed Scorsese gangster movie just in time for the holidays? It’s an excellent way to escape the family for three and a half hours.

For actual December releases, there are three more major movies, two of them strong Oscar contenders: Noah Baumbach’s emotionally wrenching “A Marriage Story” (Dec. 6), starring Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson; Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce in the based-on-real-life Vatican drama “The Two Popes” (Dec. 20); and Michael Bay’s “6 Underground” (Dec. 13), an explosion-laden action flick that looks exceedingly dumb but has the potential to be the best movie ever named after a Sneaker Pimps song. Ryan Reynolds’ charm alone can make a bad movie about 20% more watchable, so there’s a slight bit of hope.

Netlfix is also rolling out the fantasy series “The Witcher” on Dec. 20, hoping to make a “Game of Thrones”-type splash with an adaptation of the popular book and videogame series about a supernatural, sword-wielding monster-hunter. It’s already like “Game of Thrones” in one way — the eight-episode first season’s budget is reportedly around $70 million — comparable to how much the HBO epic cost per episode. This can only go two ways for Netflix: Home run or a massive strikeout. Either way it’ll be worth checking out, at least for an episode or two.

For more: Here’s everything coming to Netflix in December — and what’s leaving

For lazing around on the day after Christmas, you could do worse than binge “You,” which drops a new season and a new potential victim for Joe to stalk. The melodrama’s first season exploded in popularity on Netflix last year after flopping on Lifetime, and it’s got some serious trashy-fun credentials, seeing as it stars a “Gossip Girl” leading man (Penn Badgley) and comes from the producers of “Riverdale.” Also look for new comedy specials from Tiffany Haddish (“Black Mitzvah,” Dec. 3), Michelle Wolf (“Joke Show,” Dec. 10), Ronny Chiang (“Asian Comedian Destroys America!” Dec. 17) and a John Mulaney children’s variety special on Christmas Eve.

If you’re looking for something fairly family-friendly in the Netflix library, check out “Instant Hotel,” an oddly addictive reality show about couples competing for the best Airbnb in Australia. It’s got the house-porn of HGTV combined with the scheming of “Survivor” — plus Aussie accents — and it’s delicious.

Play, pause or stop? Definitely hit play. December is a good month to have Netflix, and well worth the price.

Amazon Prime Video ($12.99 a month or $119 a year)

Prime Video is mostly a bonus for folks who pay for one-day delivery from Amazon, but it has a pretty impressive library and some quality series. Two of its best series are back in December, with Season 3 of the Emmy-winning comedy “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (Dec. 6) and Season 4 of the gritty sci-fi drama “The Expanse” (Dec. 13). Both are worth watching, and “The Expanse” deserves a bigger audience than it had on cable (Amazon rescued it from cancelation last year).

Amazon is also getting a crop of interesting movies in December, including “The Aeronauts” (Dec. 20), an Amazon Original about Victorian-era balloon adventurers starring Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne, and one of the most critically praised movies of 2019, the quirky gentrification drama“The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” which is one of those rare movies that will stick in your head for days afterward.

Those four alone are worth the monthly price, not to mention a pair of Thursday-night NFL games (Cowboys-Bears on Dec. 5 and Jets-Ravens on the 12th) and the addition of movies such as Cameron Crowe’s “Almost Famous,” the John Hughes classic “Some Kind of Wonderful” and another Scorsese gem, “The Aviator” (all Dec. 1).

See: Here’s everything coming to Amazon Prime Video in December

If you haven’t caught up yet, there’s also Season 2 of the solid spy thriller “Jack Ryan,” starring John Krasinski, and the final season of the alt-history thriller “The Man in the High Castle,” which both arrived in November.

Play, pause or stop? Play, this is an excellent month for Amazon.

Disney+ ($6.99 a month)

Disney entered the streaming arena earlier this month, and its extensive catalog — which includes movies from Pixar, Marvel and the “Star Wars” universe, as well as every season of “The Simpsons” — makes this almost a must-have for anyone with kids.

For those who don’t have kids, the library gets surprisingly thin fairly quickly. Many forget, but until relatively recently, Disney was known for movies of, shall we say, “questionable” quality, such as “Herbie: Fully Loaded,”“The Million Dollar Duck” and “The Black Hole” (all of which are available).

The big draw for grown-ups of a certain age is the “Star Wars” bounty-hunter spinoff “The Mandalorian,” which for many will be reason enough to get a subscription. Its first season ends Dec. 27, if you want to blast through seven episodes in time for the finale. Is it worth $6.99 all on its own? Probably, just because it’s “Star Wars.”

Three episodes in, the show lacks depth and emotional stakes (though yes, Baby Yoda is cute), and the decision to always hide Pedro Pascal’s face behind a helmet hurts, since he’s such a charismatic actor. But still, there’s a cool Clint Eastwood “Man With No Name” vibe, and the show’s action pieces and special effects are fantastic. Every series doesn’t need to be “Breaking Bad,” and even though “The Mandalorian” is by-the-book and has the predictable plotting of a videogame, it’s still entertaining.

Looking for something from the archives? Try “DuckTales” (woo-ooo!), with both the original ’80s series and the current reboot available.

Disney+ hasn’t announced all of its December offerings yet, aside from the behind-the-scenes documentary series “One Day At Disney” (Dec. 3) and the dog docu-series “Pick of the Litter” (Dec. 20). It’ll also add some big movies that weren’t available when the service launched — “Coco” (Nov. 29), “Thor: Ragnarok” (Dec. 5) and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” (Dec. 26).

Play, pause or stop? If you have kids, it’s a no-brainer: Play. If not, pause and think it over — it’s still worth trying out for “The Mandalorian” and a few movies, but unless you’re a Disney superfan, at this point it’s probably not worth it for more than a month.

Hulu ($5.99 a month or $11.99 with no ads)

If you’ve cut the cord, Hulu is your lifeline to many current network and cable shows. It’s also available in a bundle with Disney+ and ESPN for $12.99 a month, which is absolutely worth it. While lagging a bit on original content, Hulu has a ton of bingeable classics, such as “Seinfeld,”“Lost” and “Veronica Mars.”

In December, it’ll add the pulpy, noir-ish Hulu Original revenge thriller “Reprisal,” along with recent seasons of “Killing Eve,”“Better Things” and “Preacher” and much more. The holidays are also a perfect opportunity to learn new insults and catchphases to annoy your family, and “Letterkenny” will provide that in spades. Highly profane and highly entertaining, the Canadian comedy dropped its seventh season in October.

Still, if you have cable, the value of the service drops slightly, and the lack of a deep library of originals might not make it worth the cost.

Play, pause or stop? Pause — Hulu is very skippable this month, you won’t miss much by stopping it.

See: Here’s what’s coming to Hulu in December — and what’s leaving

Apple TV+ ($4.99 a month)

Apple AAPL, +1.34%   made a big splash with its new service, but its shows have yet to make an impact. The first crop of nine original series got lukewarm reviews, at best (the surprise standout may be the delightfully weird “Dickinson”), and the lack of a library makes it overpriced at any amount higher than free.

But there’s hope. Apple is using the HBO blueprint, focusing on quality over quantity, and keep in mind HBO took years to build. Apple’s second crop of shows — there are just two — are intriguing. M. Night Shyamalan’s “Servant” debuts Thanksgiving Day, and looks like the creepiest thing this side of an Elf on the Shelf. Coming Dec. 6 is Octavia Spencer and Aaron Paul in “Truth Be Told,” an intense-looking crime drama that will likely provide some twists of its own.

If you’re really curious about TV+, the best bet is to wait until January, when you’ll get full seasons of Apple’s first shows (including “The Morning Show,”“For All Mankind” and “See,” which all end their first seasons in December) and a good number of “Servant” and “Truth Be Told” episodes already in the can, so you can dive in and binge away.

Play, pause or stop? Stop. As mentioned before, streaming is a volume game, and until Apple TV+ bolsters its lineup, it’s really not worth paying for. But down the line, that could certainly change.

See: Here’s what’s coming to Apple TV+ in December

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